I grew up loving Godzilla. As a child, my TV was usually aglow on any given Saturday with the radioactive behemoth and his cohorts, Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, laying waste to various Japanese cities. Part of Godzilla’s appeal was the obvious schmaltz — a guy in a rubber suit stomping on plywood buildings was, at its core, good, silly fun. But long gone are the rubber suits. In their stead, multi-million dollar CGI effects that take away all of the homespun, makeshift charm of the originals.
In 2014, Legendary Pictures decided to reboot the series as a “Monsterverse,” and the result was a fairly somber but compelling take by director Gareth Edwards. (It was upstaged two years later by the far more entertaining Shin Godzilla, produced in Japan by the monster’s originators, Toho.) Now we have Godzilla: King of the Monsters (★), the official sequel to the 2014 reboot, and without Edwards at the helm the series takes a hard nosedive into the depths of utterly, ridiculously, horribly bad. To be fair, expecting a Godzilla movie to be profound or deep is to exist beneath a monstrous cloud of self-delusion. Directed by Michael Dougherty with a hand so heavy it might as well be encased in an iron gauntlet haphazardly wielding a flail, Godzilla is not just awful — it’s extravagantly awful. To call the movie anything otherwise is to show it compassion it doesn’t deserve.
The story finds the mysterious Monarch agency, who keeps a watchful eye on the hibernating Titans (17 and counting!), upended by eco-terrorists who claim that only by releasing these huge beasts can balance be restored and the planet be saved from, well… us. The Titans’ destructive tendencies may squish people by the thousands, but in their wake are left flora and fauna. The monsters are basically oversized, fire-breathing gardeners.
The narrative rarely makes a lick of sense, to be honest, and the rationale behind one character’s actions, in particular, makes even less sense. The dialogue feels as though it was written by cracking open a few dozen cases of fortune cookies and assembling the homilies within in random order. The acting — especially Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, and Vera Farmiga as an estranged Monarch-employed family trying to stop the wanton destruction — proves that even fine actors can give performances best suited for flushing. Only Charles Dance and Bradley Whitford seem to be in on the joke. Both give spry, “I don’t care, I’m being paid well” line readings.
The plot is incidental to the battles, and there are many more than in the 2014 film. Big, bombastic, and loud, they’re messy affairs. It’s hard to discern much of the action, mostly because Dougherty has no experience with this kind of scale. Still, the monsters are impressive, particularly the three-headed, winged Ghidorah, who sports an unnerving, ferocious glint in all six of his eyes. Rodan and Mothra are cool, but add little to the overall proceedings.
“Sometimes the way to heal our wounds is to make peace with the demons that created them,” says Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), who lives in awe of the monsters and feels they should be preserved at all costs. He might as well be speaking about President Trump.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters opens nationwide on Friday, May 31. Visit www.fandango.com.